With Diocletian's accession to power in AD 284, the Roman Empire witnessed an era that was marked by numerous and fairly large-scale reforms, aimed at stabilizing the empire in economic, military and political terms. Most of these reforms affected the Empire’s administrative structures, the organization of the provinces, as well as the administration of its many cities. Scholars in the past considered these reforms to have spelled the «total regulation of urban affairs by the state» and ultimately the end of local autonomy. Indeed, the boule, the central institution of local self-government, and some of the cities «traditional» magistrates gradually started to disappear from the papyri of the 4th century. Their political power, it seems, diminished increasingly. However, officials like the logistes or the exactor, who, in the course of the Diocletianic or Constantinian reforms, had been placed at the head of municipal administration, were recruited from the ranks of the local elite. As various papyri thus suggest, the essential responsibilities had been shifted from a collective to a well-chosen board of individual magistrates of the local elite, who ultimately answered not only directly to the prefect but at times were also able to «monopolize» their social and political standing. Presumably, a development which finally led to a hierarchical differentiation within the boule and the entire urban elite has had a severe impact on councillors of lesser standing, being increasingly degraded to an «upper middle class.»
This doctoral research therefore aims not only at illuminating this process in more detail but also at tackling various questions that arise accordingly. The rise of a new civic elite would have had a major impact on the life of every single member of the social elite. Thus, it is necessary to look at various developments which so far have only been studied unsatisfactorily – such as the accumulation of landholding during the 4th century, the so-called «flight» of the curiales or the decline in municipal euergetism. The ancient polis, it seems, has lost its importance as a focal point for some parts of the upper strata. Essentially, I intend to study the elite of fourth-century Roman Egypt in all its complexity and entirety by using papyrological data, which will provide a detailed insight into elite structures, and by combining this data with archaeological, numismatic and other textual evidence.